Every time you state what you want or believe, you’re the first to hear it. It’s a message to both you and others about what you think is possible. Don’t put a ceiling on yourself.
– Oprah Winfrey
Last year, when Jeffrey Thames took over the pulpit at CCC, he preached a sermon called The Certain Samaritan. This week, he said that as certain Samaritans, it was our job to make sure everyone was on a level playing field. It was a call to action, and the congregation was tracking right along with him. He used a line I’ll never forget, that there should be no big Is and little yous. I love a good grammatical double entendre, and this one made a clear point. We all have sins, even when we think we don’t. If we are called to be Christ in the world, and we don’t use that power, it is a sin of omission, because we are actively rejecting the Christ-called mission to feed the poor, to stand up for whom the Book of Common Prayer calls “the sick, the friendless, and the needy,” and standing in judgment of people whose sins we think are greater than ours.
When my friend Casey was between his sophomore and junior years of high school, he was in a car accident that killed one of his friends. He was crushed because he was the driver, and later wrote a fantastic book about it called Tragedy to Truth. From that accident, he went on to become one of the most popular preachers in the Houston area. When I went to hear him, we hadn’t seen each other since we graduated from Clements together, and I cried all the way through his sermon… not because his sermon was sad or anything like that, but because he had allowed God to put him back on the potter’s wheel. Casey’s success after everything that had happened brought me a bucketload of tears, and I was weeping with joy.
Therefore, when Jeffrey brought in one of the young men he’s now working with at Hope Restored with a similar story, it was another moment of tears slipping down my face, because this boy had gone from years of incarceration to going back to school for a physical therapy degree. He’d gotten interested in working out and exercise science in prison, and that gave him the strength to start thinking about his future rather than his past. Jeffrey made his point… that if no one had been there to stand up for that young man and say, “this man made a mistake, but that is not the man I know,” he might not have made such a miraculous transformation. That standing up for him was letting Christ work through his family and friends. That love and belief helped put him back on the potter’s wheel, because we are clay.
In terms of my own life, I have to believe that these last three years are God’s way of saying there are cracks in your vessel. When are you getting back on the wheel? I also must undergo the transformation of tragedy to truth, because to me, rock bottom was the way I treated both Dana and Argo on the way out. In discovering my emotional abuse, confusion and rage bubbled up inside me that should have come out appropriately and, in a word, didn’t. Now, the rage is directed at me, because I am so ashamed of the way I behaved. But none of that means I am any less worthy than the love of God than anyone else. It’s what I do with that love that counts. I cannot go backward and undo anything, but what I can do is to stand up and own my mistakes, then make it possible to stretch myself out of that self-directed anger into promise.
I have oft been accused of not living up to my potential, and until my 36th birthday, I couldn’t wrap my brain around why.
Why couldn’t I use the emotional toolbox that I used when friends came to me with their problems on myself? Why couldn’t I motivate myself? Why couldn’t I pick myself up by the bootstraps when I could so easily build up others? Why was I so angry all the time? Why did I direct that anger at the people I loved the most instead of the people who deserved it? Now, I know the answer, and so do you if you’ve been with me on this journey. I didn’t feel that I was worthy of love, that people would discover I wasn’t worth their time, anyway, and it was easier to push people away before they figured this out on their own.
Dana was my rock, and in some ways, my redeemer, and I still had moments where I treated her like crap… but only because I was treating myself much, much worse.
I raged at Argo because she was an easy target. I didn’t really know her, and therefore, she was only real to me in some ways. In others, I was just screaming into a void. It was a mistake of gargantuan proportions, because she was the one friend that would literally call bullshit and tell me when I was being a “judgmental dickhead.” If I’d taken the time to really invest in that friendship, without making it this fantastical rabbit hole of emotion, she might still be. In a lot of ways, when the rabbit hole was severed, I was Alice falling unmoored, and when I landed, there was no padding.
Rock bottom. There’s a reason they call it that, and I landed on my head.
Everything I held dear slipped away at my own hand, and it created permanent scars that are healing nicely, but I will always be able to look at them, because that’s the thing about scars… I know this from cooking. I haven’t picked up a Chef’s Knife in years, and yet I still have scars from the days when I did, and a pink triangle on my forearm where I touched the corner of a convection oven. They don’t hurt anymore, but they’re still there.
And so it goes with emotions. Eventually, the scars won’t hurt, but that doesn’t mean I won’t have flashbacks of the person I used to be and the desire to be different… to keep working to be a better person because of them.
Maybe it takes falling apart to come back together, but what I have learned is that all people are really two, and we have to learn to love them both. There will never be a time when any person is rid of sin, but God doesn’t mold us once. God molds us whenever we ask. Not to ask is putting a ceiling on what we believe is possible, and what we tell ourselves makes all the difference.